Men pack for reality. Women pack for fantasy.

The only one thing better than going away for Christmas? Not going away for Christmas.

Every time I ask someone about their plans for the holidays, their reply seems to be “I’m staying home this year”. I believe this is called having a Stay-cation and it has become wildly popular.

I’m certain this is due to the fact a Stay-cation means you don’t have to pack.  High five to that. Because in most households, packing is a source of considerable tension.

Since the first suitcase was invented by some cave dude who needed to transport half a mammoth to a mate’s BBQ, men have been bitching that women don’t know how to pack. Or rather, women don’t know how to pack light.

Yes we know and what’s your point? Now that bags have wheels, there really is no downside to packing heavily and yet still men complain about it.

Or is it just in my house?

I come from a long line of heavy packers. My mother has been travelling regularly for decades and cheerfully admits she’s never mastered the cull. “Each time we go away I embrace the challenge of packing light and I always fail,” she says. “I think it’s because I imagine I’m going to be a different person when I’m away so I take clothes I never wear at home. Of course that fantasy person never emerges and I revert to my usual look. That’s OK though. I never expect to wear everything I pack even though this baffles your father.”


Indeed it does. My Dad never tires of exhorting Mum to travel with less and I marvel at how he can be bothered to keep fighting a battle he’ll never win.

We fight the same battle in our house or rather my husband does. The only battle I fight is with the zip on my suitcase.

Luggage designer Barbara Barry recently explained to Forbes magazine the fundamental difference between the way men and women pack. “Men say ‘three shirts, two pairs of pants, a couple of pairs of shoes and a jacket.’ Women think outfits: ‘I’m going to this occasion, and this is what it should look like.’ They think about it a lot. They think about it when they’re sleeping.”

This is true. It’s easier for men because they pack types of clothing whereas women tend to pack whole looks, complete with appropriate shoes and underwear. We also take into account an infinite number of hypothetical situations, most of which require slightly different items of clothing. Overlay a male voice demanding “why do you need all this stuff?” and you have a recipe for a nervous breakdown.

Gentlemen? Need has nothing to do with it. It’s about maximising choices. Obviously.

Put simply, you could say men pack for logistics (weather etc) and women pack for emotions. ‘How do I want to feeeel on this trip?’ is a far more pertinent question for me than, say, ‘how will this suitcase fit in the car?’.

And anyway, how can you measure the success of packing in finite terms? Is it whoever takes the least wins?  Do you lose points for every unworn item you bring home? Bonus points for having spare suitcase space? Bragging rights for the one who remembers all their rechargers?

Incidentally, I’m none too thrilled that technology now requires its own bag. Camera, laptop, phones, Kindle, ipad plus all their individual chargers and sync cords. The fear of being charger-less adds yet another new level of packing angst.

I journey through several turbulent emotional states while packing. The first is excitement as I imagine being on holiday. The second is anticipation as I picture myself in various scenarios – at the beach or in the airport – and mentally sift through my wardrobe to find the corresponding clothes to go with said scenarios. The next state is denial as I drastically overestimate both the time I have to pack and the size of my suitcase. From there I descend quickly into panic and finally fear as my plans for the perfect holiday wardrobe are abandoned for a more freestyle approach of grabbing fist fulls of tops, swimmers, accessories, jeans and frocks from drawers, hangers and laundry baskets, stuffing them maniacally into every available suitcase cavity as the clock ticks ominously down to departure.

And that’s before I’ve even considered packing for the kids. Travelling with children is another column unto itself which I have in fact already written after a particularly disastrous trip up the coast when our youngest son was four months old and our daughter was three and which culminated in me snapping “Jeff’s dead!” one rainy day when she asked for the 400th time “What’s wrong with Jeff?” while we watched (for the 400th time) a Wiggles DVD.

Jeff was, in fact, just sleeping but in my defence, I had not slept in 46 hours. As my girlfriend reminded me, “Don’t call it a holiday, call it ‘moving the children to a different location without any of your usual props to entertain them.’

Stay-cation anyone?

Whatever you’re doing this holiday season, please do it safely and have a wonderful new year.

What are you planning for the holidays?


More articles